For the last month, Snick and I have been visiting a small school for developmentally challenged children once a week. We visit three classrooms ranging in age from four to nine and each class has about 10 kids in it. Each visit is only about 20 minutes long. One class has invited us to the playground with them for the last two weeks, so our morning has been like this
9:00 to 9:20 – 7 to 9 year olds
9:30 to 9:50 – 5 & 6 year olds
10:00 to 10:15 – 4 year olds
10:30 to 11:00 – playground with the 5 & 6 year olds
I think Snickers has mixed emotions about his school visits so far. Parts of it are fun and other parts are really hard work. It’s been a great learning experience for both of us.
When we first started, a large percentage of the kids were nervous with Snickers and would only reach out tentatively to pet him. He figured that out pretty quickly and would become very still. The kids sit in a circle and take turns asking if they may pet him and then approach to pet him. Snickers can tell who is the most nervous and will lie down and turn his head away from them. (I’ve explained to all of them that in his doggie body language he’s trying his very best to tell them he is not a threat.) I’m amazed at how sensitive Shibas are to human emotions. I feel sort of bad for Snickers too though, because he loves kids and he wants to PLAY. I can tell he is working hard at being non-threatening and also that he is disappointed/sad that we’re not romping around having fun. I feel guilty about making him work so hard, but I think he trusts me enough to know there must be a reason for it.
With each visit, more kids become comfortable with him and we have progressed to things like letting them give him treats (which of course he loves). He’s even given a few high fives and KISSES on command to the most comfortable children. There are still a few that are very scared but he makes himself small and still and they have all at least approached and petted him now. One girl who was scared to get near him a month ago gave Snickers (and then me!) a HUG last week. It was awesome.
Last week, most of the students in the older class walked him around the roof. (They held his leash. I walked behind them holding a long line.) That was fun. I played a little squeaky toy fetch with him in the hallway – on his long line – between classes and that was lots of fun for him. The second class mostly still just pets him and talks. Snickers laid down in the middle of the circle this week while we talked. The third class was having an emotional melt down this week, so we didn’t do much. We’d done some team dog walking around the classroom the week before, but this week they were too worked up. Snick said hello to the ones that aren’t afraid of him and we left.
Between the last class and the playground time, we sit in the front lobby and chat with the receptionist. Snickers hops up on the bench next to me and sits so quietly. Everyone who walks by stops to pet him and tell him how beautiful and well behaved he is. He gets lots of extra treats and love from me.
Going to the playground the last two weeks has been the most fun, because Snick can stretch his legs and also only has to interact with the kids who are really comfortable with him. There are two boys in this class that really love him. One of the boys sticks with us the whole time at the playground – hugs and pets Snickers, talks to him, and has walked him around the playground (with my help of course). This class has asked us if we’ll “come and play” some during the summer term too and, of course, I said that we will!
We were planning to go this week (their last day) but their schedule for the day changed and we had to skip it. We’ll be going back for the summer session though, beginning July 11. Overall it has been a good experience. I’m so proud of Snickers for being so good at reading the kids – knowing which ones are scared and which ones are comfortable. They can’t fool him either. When they are only pretending to be brave, he knows and is very careful not to move too quickly.
If it is possible, I think I love him even more than I did before we started.